School Attendance and The Law
By law, all children of compulsory school age (between 5 and 16
years*) must receive appropriate education. They must either be
registered at school, or have alternative arrangements agreed by
the Local Authority (LA). Bedfordshire County Council is the Local
Authority for Bedfordshire. (*The school leaving date is the
last Friday in June).
If you refuse to register your child at a suitable school, without
good reason, you may receive an Attendance Order – a legal document
requiring the child to register at a school. If your child is
registered at a school, you must make sure the child attends that
school regularly. If you do not, the Local Authority may take legal
proceedings against you.
The Education Welfare Service
The Education Welfare Service (EWS) has a legal responsibility to
monitor school attendance on behalf of the Local Authority. When
there is concern about a child's attendance, the school will refer
this to the Education Welfare Service. Welfare Officers (EWOs) will
contact the parents and the child to discuss the absences and give
help with any difficulties which affect the child's
You may contact the Education Welfare Service yourself, to obtain
advice and support if you are concerned about your child's
attendance. Please contact your school for the telephone number of
your Education Welfare Officer.
If your child continues to have absences without a reason, which
the school can accept and authorise, the EWS will send you a
letter, reminding you of your responsibilities and warning that
court action may be taken.
If your child's attendance remains poor, a pre-court meeting will
usually be held at the school. You and your child will be able to
explain at this meeting why your child's attendance has been poor
and how you plan to improve it. If attendance becomes acceptable
after this meeting, no court action will be taken.
Prosecution of parents
The EWS will only prosecute parents as a last resort and after
discussion with the school and other relevant persons.
Evidence for prosecution will be supplied by the school in the form
of an attendance certificate signed by the headteacher. The
magistrates will accept this as a record of attendance from the
The Education Welfare Officer will write a report for the court on
the evidence of visits and telephone calls made to parents.
Defence against prosecution
If you are prosecuted, you have a right to challenge
prosecution grounds for the following reasons:
- The headteacher authorised your child's absence
(the headteacher does not need to authorise a note sent by the
- Your child was absent due to sickness or
unavoidable cause (sickness may be authorised by a medical
- Your child was absent in connection with
- The school is beyond the statutory limits for
walking and no transport is available (the limits are 2 miles for
children under 8 years and 3 miles for children aged 8 and
If you wish to challenge the reasons for
non-attendance recorded in the register, you must demonstrate that
one or more of these grounds applies.
If you are asked to attend court because of your
child's absence from school, you will be sent a summons, stating
the date, time and place. The Education Welfare Service will also
send you copies of the prosecution evidence. This will include a
statement made by the Education Welfare Officer and a certificate
of attendance, showing your child's attendance over a specific
It may be in your interest to obtain legal advice. Legal aid is not
usually granted by the courts.
At the hearing, you will be asked whether you plead guilty or not
guilty. If you plead guilty, the prosecutor (usually a Senior
Education Welfare Officer) will give a summary of the evidence. If
you plead not guilty, the case will be adjourned and you will be
asked whether you wish to bring witnesses and/or for the Education
Welfare Officer to be present in court to give evidence at the next
Under the Crime and disorder Act 1998, if proceedings
are being taken against you in the Magistrates Court, a
representative from the Youth Offending Service will visit you at
your home before the hearing to undertake an assessment for a
If the Magistrates Court grants a Parenting Order, it may last for
up to a year. It will say that you must attend parenting guidance
services for period of 3-6 months. There may also be other
requirements attached to it.
If you have pleaded guilty, or been found guilty, the
magistrates have the power to impose a fine of up to 1,000 on each
parent. If you plead guilty or have been found guilty of an
aggravated offence of failing to ensure your child attends school
regularly, they can increase the fine to a maximum of 2,500 and/or
up to three months imprisonment for each parent. They may also
award costs against you.
Magistrates sometimes sentence parents to a conditional discharge.
This means there is no punishment if their child's attendance
record is acceptable from that time on but, if those parents are
convicted again during the period of the order, they will then be
punished for the first offence as well as any further offences.
Education Supervision Orders (ESOs)
The Education Welfare Service can apply for an
Education Supervision Order. This can be in addition to or instead
of a prosecution. An application for an ESO is heard in the Family
ESOs enable Education Welfare Officers to direct parents and the
child to co-operate with plans to make sure the child is
Before an order is applied for, the Education Welfare Service must
consult the parents, the children and the County Council's Social
and Community Care Department. The Court must agree that an ESO is
in the best interests of the child.
The first Order is for one year. Extensions can be requested which
may be up to three years at a time. These extensions are possible
up until the time the child leaves school.
ESOs encourage parents and children to work in partnership with the
Education Welfare Officers. If parents do not, they can be taken
back to Court and fined. Cases can be referred to the Social and
Community Care Department to make investigations.